Borderless economy throws a lifeline to endangered Thai dialects

An ensemble of traditional musicians begins to play. The treble sound of the oboe gets louder. Drum rolls accompany a steady rhythm of cymbals. A male singer croons in an obscure dialect, “Oh, Ga Nobe Ting Tong …”.

A group of four women clad in shiny eggshell-coloured silk blouses and red sarongs dance along. They slide their legs from left to right, then right to left, weaving their arms in the air — like dancing mantises.

The hall is filled with curious audiences who gather annually for Mother Language Day on Feb 21.

“Ga Nobe Ting Tong” means mantis in the Khmer Thin Thai dialect, which is spoken by 1.4 million descendants of Khmer migrants in Thailand’s north-eastern provinces of Buri Ram, Si Sa Ket and Surin. It is also the name of a traditional performance in the lower part of the north-east that associates a dancing mantis and singing about flirtation. Singers may invent their own lyrics.

Khmer Thin Thai is among the languages endangered in Thailand, as the younger generation abandons them for the dominant Thai language. But growing cross-border trade and tourism may change that, providing opportunities for young ethnic people who can understand the languages of neighbouring countries

Read more: Today Online

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